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TECNARO GmbH – Thermoplastics made of lignin

TECNARO GmbH, who was awarded the Industry Prize 2009, produces sustainable materials for the automotive and packaging industries and also for the manufacturers of furniture, toys, musical instruments and shoes.

TECNARO GmbH, which stands for TEChnologie NAchwachsender Rohstoffe (Technology of renewable resources) is a spin-off company of the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology (ICT) in Pfinztal. It was while they were working at the Fraunhofer ICT that the two TECNARO founders, Helmut Nägele and Jürgen Pfitzer, came up with the idea of "using renewable resources for plastics processing".  The two engineers went on to found TECNARO in 1998 based on the idea of using lignin as the basis for an innovative material. Supported by the FUTOUR project funded by the Project Management Organisation Jülich and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), TECNARO relocated to Eisenach (Thuringia) in 2000 where Nägele and Pfitzer started developing materials from lignin. In 2006, the company returned to Baden-Württemberg and is now headquartered in Ilsfeld-Auenstein.

GUCCI and ARBOFORM®

The "ECOPUMP" lady’s shoe designed by Sergio Rossi. © Gucci Group

In 2010, TECNARO has three materials classes on the market. ARBOFORM® is a fibre composite consisting of lignin and natural fibres which is produced using only renewable raw materials. "There is no other thermoplastic material on the market that can be processed more precisely than ARBOFORM®," explained Jürgen Pfitzer. The material enables the manufacture of thin- and thick-walled components in one piece without distortion, something that is crucially important in the production of plastics. The company Schü-Prod GmbH uses ARBOFORM® in a measurement adapter designed to register an optical measurement point in three-dimensional space. The ARBOFORM® casing replaces a swivel made of aluminium. ARBOFORM® is also used for the production of brake disc cores for Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG.

The GUCCI group of companies launched the "Sergio Rossi" EcoPump lady's shoe with the heel made of ARBOFORM® to coincide with the launch of the film "Home" by Yann Arthus Bertrand, for which Gucci provided financial support. "This shows that renewable materials can also be used for the manufacture of aesthetic products," said Pfitzer. Other parts of the shoe, for example the inner and outer sole and the packaging, are also made of TECNARO materials.

Lignin material for application in numerous industries

Forest plate made of ARBOFORM® © Rümmelein

The ARBOBLEND® material used for the production of packaging material is biologically degradable. In cooperation with the company Solarwatt, TECNARO produces stacking aids made of ARBOBLEND® for the transport of solar cells. The waste products that accumulate at the construction site can thus be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.

TECNARO is not averse to working in unusual sectors as the first deep-drawn coffin made of ARBOBLEND®, launched in 2009, ably demonstrates. "The ARBOBLEND® coffin is an excellent example of the tediousness of testing processes," said Pfitzer highlighting the fact that TECNARO took four years to independently test the coffin. Since there are hardly any standards in such a traditional sector as the death care industry, the commercialisation of ARBOBLEND® coffins was subject to many regulatory requirements. In cooperation with the University of Stuttgart and other partners, TECNARO carried out investigations to test the degradability of the coffin. The coffins were buried 2 m below the soil surface and left there for a defined period of time. "A broad range of other products soon followed," said the Managing Director. Once Nägele and Pfitzer had tested the suitability of their innovative material for use in a specific industry, they went on to test its suitability in other sectors, with the aim of using the material in numerous different industries, including safety-relevant car parts as well as food sector products. "We have tried to get authorisation for as many products as possible, and time has shown that this was the right thing to do," said Pfitzer. The company's products are sold around the world through ALBIS PLASTIC GmbH.

ARBOFILL® on the table

A new series of dishware made of ARBOFILL® destined for the South American market © COZA

"ARBOFILL® contains some plastics and the company is able to adjust the ARBOFILL®:plastics ratio to individual client requirements, thereby enabling the production of different products with a broad range of properties," said Pfitzer. The production of a dishware series for the South American market signals the entry of the food safe biomaterial into non-European markets.

The company also hopes to further advance the ARBOCAR project which is part of the Biopolymers/Biomaterials cluster, in which TECNARO works in collaboration with Takata-Petri AG, ASA Spezialenzyme GmbH, BAFA Badische Naturfaseraufbereitung GmbH, Bosch Formenbau GmbH, Fischer Automotive Systems GmbH, Daimler AG and the Institute of Technical Biochemistry at the University of Stuttgart. The goal of the project is to modify ARBOFORM® in terms of its enzymes in order to make the material suitable for the production of steering wheels, and internal car parts. "Thanks to our partners, the project is progressing rapidly," said Pfitzer. However, the future still has much in store for TECNARO. With the nomination of the company for the European Inventor Award, the company has had an excellent start to 2010.

Website address: https://www.biooekonomie-bw.de/en/articles/pm/tecnaro-gmbh-thermoplastics-made-of-lignin/